Horton Media will look through the wreckage of Bauer Media's New Zealand magazine publishing stable for possible bargains after Bauer announced it would immediately cease publishing many of the country's best-loved weekly titles.
Queensland-based chief executive Matthew Horton told BusinessDesk it was too early to speculate on whether and which titles could be of interest to Horton Media, which bills itself as "Australasia's largest independent contract newspaper printer."
Horton, a descendant of the Horton family dynasty that published the New Zealand Herald when it was owned by Wilson & Horton, said "we would probably have some interest in some segments of them", referring to the Bauer titles which include The Listener, NZ Woman's Weekly, Property Press, Metro, North & South and home and gardening titles, among others.
Also potentially interested could be Sydney-based Mercury Capital, which the Australian Financial Review last year reported was looking at the Bauer stable, although today's statement from Bauer said it had tried and failed to find buyers. Comment has been sought from Mercury.
One potential investor showing no interest in the swag of potentially low-priced magazines - some of which are household names with enormous brand recognition - was Barry Colman, former publisher of the National Business Review.
"No way," he said in a text in response to a question from BusinessDesk about whether he might take an interest.
A former editor-in-chief of the New Zealand Herald-turned-media-commentator, Gavin Ellis, said he believed some titles could still be viable and will likely find wealthy individual buyers.
Ellis said while he had anticipated the magazines would close during the shutdown, the announcement Bauer would close permanently came as a shock.
"There is a significant social cost to this, in addition to the cost Bauer says it can't sustain," he said.
"These magazines are the way in which our social history is recorded — the colour of our society is represented by these magazines."
Ellis said well-known titles such as NZ Listener and Woman's Weekly would both be likely candidates to be picked up by new individual owners to resume publishing for their loyal readers.
"I can see a future for them, some of the other titles perhaps not," he said.
"Both reflect NZ culture in a way that isn't matched anywhere else. Not on digital media, the daily press or the broadcasters either."
There are wealthy New Zealanders who may be willing to rescue the magazines, buying them as a distressed business with no assets other than the mastheads, and rebuilding the publications, Ellis said.
"Those two titles in particular, and there may be others, have the potential to be viable enterprises. Perhaps not on the scale that they have enjoyed in the past, but certainly in a way that continues to contribute to New Zealand culture."
While the fire-sale may mean the titles would be cheap to acquire, the cost of resurrecting them may be considerably higher. Still, Ellis said there was money to be made because competition was thin on the ground.
"This, in one fell swoop, has basically destroyed the New Zealand magazine market," he said.
Bauer had a virtual monopoly on the widely circulated titles and the large media organisations are not in a position to pick up other titles.
"The likes of Stuff and NZME are in a dangerous position themselves," he said.
"Their recovery is going to be long and rather flat, for their own publications without picking up new liabilities. If you look in the paper today, the amount of advertising is pitiful."
Bauer Australia New Zealand chief executive Brendon Hill said in a statement that publishing in New Zealand was dependent on advertising revenue and it was unlikely that demand would ever return to pre-crisis levels putting the business in an untenable position going forward.
Broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi said Tuesday that he recognised the restrictions were adding to financial challenges to traditional media at a time when the sector was already under stress, and pointed to other backstops such as the wage subsidy to help tide them over.
Today, Faafoi told media that Bauer could have accessed half-a-million dollars via the wage subsidy scheme or the business finance guarantee.
A Bauer spokesperson told BusinessDesk that no subsidies had been sought during discussions with government ministers.